The newest class of the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame includes rice farmer Gary Sebree of Stuttgart; the late Bobby Wells, a renowned plant breeder who developed many varieties of rice that have positively impacted the state’s farmers; forester Allen Bedell of Hot Springs; former state senator Neely Cassady of Nashville, and poultry company executive Mark Simmons of Siloam Springs.
The group will be honored at the 29th annual induction luncheon, set for 11:30 a.m. on March 3 at Little Rock’s Embassy Suites Hotel.
“What a great cross-section of Arkansas agriculture to be selected for the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame,” said Butch Calhoun of Des Arc, Ark., chairman of the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame committee and former Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture. “The collective impact of these five are felt in every part of our state.
“I have said this before, and it bears repeating; agriculture is one of the great success stories of our state. What a privilege to see these great advocates of agriculture be recognized.”
The new selections will bring to 158 the number of honorees inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame.
Gary Sebree, a third-generation rice farmer, spent 43 years as a farmer representative on the Producers Rice Mill board of directors, 24 of those as chairman (1990- 2014), a time of phenomenal growth for Producers and the Arkansas rice industry. A farmer-owned cooperative, Producers grew from 956 members in 1971 when Sebree first joined the board, to a high of 2,637 members in 2013. During that span, member receipts increased more than tenfold, from 6.2 million bushels in 1971 to 65.5 million bushels in 2011, while sales grew from $17.5 million in 1971 to a high of $568.5 million in 2013.
Sebree was awarded the 2016 Rice Lifetime Achievement Award from USA Rice.
He was on the first Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board (1979-86), chairman of the USA Rice Producers Group (2000-2002) and chairman of the USA Rice Federation (2002-2004). He also was named Arkansas Rice Farmer of the Year in 1998.
Sebree attended Hendrix College in 1959-60, majoring in chemistry/pre-med, but had to leave due to tuberculosis, leading to his life’s work on the farm.
Bobby Wells was a world-renowned expert on rice production, with special emphasis on rice nutrition and soil fertility. He was active in cooperative interdisciplinary research in rice production and worked closely with others in the rice cultivar improvement program in Arkansas and adjoining states.
After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas in 1964, he worked for two years as an assistant professor at Murray State University in Kentucky. Wells then came to the UA’s Rice Research Station in Stuttgart, where he spent 16 years before moving to the Fayetteville campus in 1982. Dr. Wells received the outstanding faculty award for the UA’s Department of Agronomy in 1981, the Distinguished Rice Research and Education Award from the Rice Technical Working Group in 1988 and the Outstanding Research Award from the Arkansas Association of Cooperative Extension Specialists in 1992.
Wells passed away on Dec. 22, 1996.
Allen Bedell was a long-time forester for Georgia-Pacific in Fordyce and also owned two whole-tree chipping operations, Circle B. Logging and Quality Stand Density Control, Inc. He is a former chairman of the Arkansas Forestry Commission, a past president of the Arkansas Forestry Association and currently serves as the forestry representative on the Arkansas Department of Agriculture board.
Bedell helped start the Log a Load For Kids program, an annual campaign that raises money for patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, which has raised more than $8 million from Arkansas loggers.
He also was one of the founding organizers of the Arkansas Timber Producers Association. He was twice named as the AFA’s Outstanding Logger of the Year (1989, 1994). Bedell earned an undergraduate degree in forestry from Louisiana State University and a master’s degree in forest management from Yale.
Neely Cassady was a driving force for the poultry industry in southwest Arkansas, taking over his father’s hatchery at the age of 18 and expanding it into a vertically integrated poultry company. He built and sold two such companies that continue today as part of Pilgrim’s and Tyson Foods. He was elected to the Arkansas Senate in 1982 and served the people of southwest Arkansas for 14 years, where he was a staunch advocate for agricultural issues.
Cassady was president of the Arkansas Poultry Federation (1973-74), on the Tyson Foods board of directors (1974-2001), and a long-time member of the Central Baptist College board of trustees. He was presented the Poultry Pioneer award by the University of Arkansas, given a lifetime achievement award from the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International.
Mark Simmons has been chairman of the board for Simmons Foods since 1987. He first joined the family business in 1968 after graduating from the University of Arkansas. He was named president in 1974, following the death of his father.
Under his direction, Simmons Foods has grown into one of the nation’s largest privately held broiler-processing companies and the largest private-label wet pet food manufacturer in North American. The company has grown from a single plant with roughly $20 million in sales and 350 employees in 1974 to approximately $1.4 billion in sales and nearly 6,000 employees in more than 20 facilities across North America.
Simmons was a founding member of the Northwest Arkansas Council, serves on the board of trustees at John Brown University, and is a board member of the Walton Family Charitable Support Trust. He was named Man of the Year in 1990 by the Arkansas Poultry Federation, the 2009 regional Entrepreneur of the Year in the agri-business category by Ernst & Young, received the Golden Paddle Award from the Illinois River Watershed Partnership, and was inducted in 2013 into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.
The mission of the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame is to build public awareness of agriculture and to formally recognize and honor individuals whose efforts have led to the prosperity of local communities and the state.
Luncheon tickets are $35 each. Individual tickets and tables of 10 are available by calling (501) 228-1609 or emailing [email protected].